NEWS | Sunday, 18 November 2007

Ghar id-dud tragedy warning: government weighing options

James Debono

The government is waiting for the Sliema local council to present its proposals following the publication of a report warning that the caves beneath the Ghar id-Dud promenade could collapse, with the fearful prospect of fatalities.
“The government is interested to see the proposals which the Local Council would have to make following the study commissioned by the Local Council,” a spokesperson for the Environment Ministry told MaltaToday.
The report ominously warned that “if collapse is sudden and during daytime or early night time, injury and loss of lives may result.”
The council, which only received the report a few days before its contents were revealed in MaltaToday, will be discussing the report next week.
Once the contents of this report are analysed, the government plans to conduct further studies relating to the structural stability of Ghar il-Lembi, the underlying caves beneath the promenade.
The government will also seek advice on the best solution to prevent further deterioration and on how to possibly strengthen the supporting layers below the road and promenade.
The government also wants to compare the findings of the study commissioned by the local council with the findings of a study commissioned by MEPA as part of the process of assessing a development application for an underground car park in the same area.
The car park application was halted following objections by the local council which wanted to preserve Ghar il-Lembi.
Back in 2005 MEPA had recommended the elimination of Ghar il-Lembi to pave the way for the development of a car park in the area between the northern part of the Chalet and the corner to Qui-Si-Sana without harming the other cave, Ghar id-Dud. MEPA justified its decision claiming that Ghar il-Lembi had a “very weak” internal stability and could collapse in the “short term” even if no development is allowed in the area.
On the other hand, back then MEPA claimed that the internal stability of Ghar id-Dud is “weak” but not as weak as that of Ghar il-Lembi, making its collapse less imminent.
But the report commissioned by MEPA and conducted by Integrated Resource Management Ltd had acknowledged the caves as sites of special scientific interest stating that the whole site, including both caves, can “definitely be considered fragile and in need of protection from man made interference.”
Neither does the latest report commissioned by the local council call for the elimination of the caves.
The report recommends building retaining walls to reduce wave energy reaching the shore. “These coastal defence mechanisms are important in Ghar id-Dud bay where coastal erosion threatens the stability of overlying pedestrian zone due to the collapse of the cave roof.”
The Ministry’s spokesperson now says that the government remains committed to ensure the safety of the citizens while respecting, “as much as possible, the integrity of the environment.”
It remains to be seen whether both caves and public safety can be protected from the looming danger.

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